Sunday, March 15, 2009

Japan - Day One

For photos to go with this post, click on this link!

It is about noon on our first full day in Tokyo. The bags are unpacked; items are stored in various clothes and containers; and we’ve been puttering around the Arms (what the apartment building is called), learning where storage is located and how all the systems work. This afternoon we are biking over to the university to see the office and use the Internet. We are doing a lot of new stuff with Josie, another new teacher who we got to know by email and on the phone. Luckily our flights arrived at the same time, and we were able to meet in the passport control line.
The flight yesterday was long and uneventful. Thirteen plus hours is a long time, and in-flight movies and books can only occupy so much time. Looking out the window at snow covered Alaskan mountains and the frozen Bering Strait was pretty cool, though…
So, how’s Japan? Perhaps the best one-word answer is efficient. Stereotypes aside, Japan is also tidy, organized, polite, and compact. With less than 24 hours under our belts, we are thoroughly enchanted and pleased. Our apartment is far better than we expected: spacious and well lit with two south-facing windows and two large sliding glass doors on the west side. Other teachers who have the small one-room studio apartments make us feel guilty. I have included a couple quick photos.
An example of efficient… We landed at just before 4 pm, and it took us less than 30 minutes to clear passport control, get our luggage, go through customs, purchase bus tickets, and on the way in a comfortable Greyhound-style bus. We excitedly peered out the windows, looking at the people, cars, and buildings. It is not very exotic, but there are just enough differences to keep it interesting.
The bus took up to the Kichijoji train station and took about two hours, eventually arriving in the dark. After some confusion with taxis, we loaded up two with our four footlockers and Josie’s two suitcases and were on our way. After discovering that our taxi driver had family in Los Angeles and that he had heard of Detroit, we ran out of common vocabulary, and we rode in silence for awhile.
After a few minutes, my stomach grumbled loudly. There was a long pause, then the driver leaned over, patted my stomach, and asked, “Hungry?” We all laughed as I answered, “Hai.”
Upon arrival at the Arms, no one was expecting us, and it took us some time to find one of the current teachers in her apartment. I think there was a little bit of a communication break down somewhere in the system. Apparently everyone was at different graduation parties, so after some phone calls to inebriated staff people, keys were on the way.
We met Kris, the new vice director of CELE (Center for English Language Education), and she, along with the teacher, Kristina, volunteered to take us to the nearest grocery store so we could stock up on coffee, creamer, yogurt, and other items for breakfast. What the heck? How can you tell if it is milk or creamer if it is all written in Japanese? Very inconsiderate…
Then we stopped at local restaurant/take out to order “guidon,” a rice dish with a beef/chim chi topping. Back at Kristina’s apartment, we wolfed down the tasty food, surprised at how hungry we were.
At that point, Shugi, the director of the international department, arrived with the keys and a hastily gathered bag of groceries as a welcoming present. He apologized profusely for situation, which of course we made us feel bad because it was just as much fault.
Finally, with everything squared away, we retreated into our apartment and closed the door, exhausted. Then, we could not figure out how the futon mattress, sheets, and blankets combination worked, so we just threw them down on the tatami floor of the bedroom, brushed our teeth, and went to bed around 10:30.
After a good night’s sleep, we woke up and started our day. To our horror, the gas was not turned on, so we could not boil water for coffee! Luckily, we figured out how to boil water with the automatic tea water boiler and soon had a French press of coffee ready to go. A little breakfast of yogurt and granola, and then on to unpacking, sorting, and storing. The apartment has lots of storage closets, and the former occupants basically left us all their non-personal belongings: cleaning supplies, dishes, guide books, office supplies, and everything else. It feels very strange to move into a completely furnished place. We felt like we were snooping when we opened all the drawers and cupboards and cooed over all the things we found. Joe and Takako have excellent taste!

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